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Judge seeks $1.92-million in costs defending self

After winning a case last month, Hillsborough Circuit Judge Gregory Holder wants the Judicial Qualifications Commission to pay his legal bills.

By CANDACE RONDEAUX
Published July 26, 2005


TAMPA - Hillsborough Circuit Judge Gregory Holder says he racked up a $1.92-million tab fighting charges that he plagiarized an Air Force research paper. Now, a month after the case was dismissed, he wants the Judicial Qualifications Commission to foot the bill.

"I've paid considerable sums and so has my family," Holder said.

On Monday, Holder's attorneys filed a motion asking the JQC to pay the judge's legal bill. Holder hired attorneys from three separate law firms a little more than two years ago to defend against charges he plagiarized a 1998 research paper for a course at MacDill Air Force Base. His attorneys deposed dozens of witnesses and called several experts to the stand during the June JQC hearing.

Holder said he's personally shelled out about $100,000 for his legal defense. It's just a fraction of what he owes, but it represents about 75 percent of his nearly $135,000 annual salary. In a 2001 financial statement, the judge listed his net worth at $265,680.

During the JQC hearing, several witnesses raised serious doubts about allegations that the former Air Force reservist had cribbed the paper from another student, E. David Hoard. No one was ever able to produce the paper Holder originally submitted. The JQC concluded the evidence against Holder was not convincing enough and dismissed the charges against Holder.

A June 23 JQC order recommended that the Florida Supreme Court award costs to Holder. But commission officials said costs are one thing, attorney fees are quite another.

"It seems awfully high to me," said JQC general counsel Tom McDonald.

McDonald said Tuesday that he hadn't seen the motion filed by Holder's attorney. But he said the JQC's annual budget is only about $800,000.

"We can't pay it," said JQC general counsel Tom McDonald. "The state would end up paying it."

Holder's Tampa attorney, David Weinstein, said he was "cautiously optimistic" that the six-member panel that reviewed Holder's case would consider paying the estimated $140,000 in costs. Weinstein acknowledged, however, that he'll probably have a fight on his hands when it comes to collecting the roughly $1.77-million in legal fees. But he said the fees are reasonable.

"It's not unusual for a case that goes on for several years and that involves experts and witnesses and depositions from around the country," Weinstein said. "We had to start from scratch investigating these charges ourselves. This was a very time-consuming and expensive proposition."

Charles Pillans, the JQC's special counsel on the Holder case, said the payment of attorney fees would be unprecedented.

"I think there will be an issue as to whether they're entitled to fees," he said.

Weinstein cited Florida common laws that entitle public officials who successfully defend against legal charges brought in connection with their jobs to seek to recover expenses. He has asked the court to appoint a special master to determine what, if any, fees can be collected from the JQC.

The JQC rarely dismisses charges after a full hearing. In 1987, Orlando Judge Joseph Baker faced an allegation that he had taken a leave of absence without getting permission from his chief judge. The JQC tried the case but decided the evidence was not convincing.

The commission's executive director could not be reached to comment on who bore responsibility for Baker's costs and fees.

In the Holder case, as with Baker, the JQC will make a recommendation to the court about the repayment of costs and fees. McDonald said he doubts Holder will get everything he's asking for.

"We probably will negotiate with him on costs but the court has ruled that fees are not to be repaid," McDonald said.

-- Candace Rondeaux can be reached at 813 226-3337 or rondeaux@sptimes.com

****

The cost of Judge Gregory Holder's defense

TOTAL COSTS: $140,870.79

A sampling of costs

Expert expenses & fees: $63,226.86

Copy fees: $19,065.56

Trial exhibit expenses: $2,547.78

Legal research fees: $9,527.00

TOTAL ATTORNEY FEES: $1,779,691.81

By law firm

Bales Weinstein: $1,194,947.50

Sidley Austin Brown & Wood: $533,627.50

James, Hoyer, Newcomer & Smiljanich: $51,116.81

[Last modified July 26, 2005, 18:58:51]


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